Greenwich Then and Now
Barbara Ludlow, Julian Watson, History Press.
Now here’s a review that’s long overdue. This book came out a couple of months ago, much awaited by Yours Truly, but it’s taken me this long to get myself back in gear after my enforced break.
Just in case any of you haven’t already come across this volume yet, (and there are just so many books that have come out /are coming out this year so it wouldn’t surprise me if you hadn’t. I’m checking them all out and I will let you know my personal pick of the bunch), a bit like my own ‘then and now series’ (search for it in the little google box on the left) but much more comprehensive it follows Greenwich’s history through photos. Two each of every scene; one in sepia, from ‘a long time ago’ (though still a photograph, so only ever back to the days of the early days of the camera) the other a modern colour shot taken as close to the first scene as possible.
This is the sort of thing I mean:
The Old Royal Naval College, plus training ship back in the days when small boys wore sailor suits with pride and
sans ship, when the closest you get to sailor suits are chasing Johnny Depp around a film set.
The subject is in the safest possible hands, those of Barbara Ludlow and Julian Watson, both veterans of many volumes about the area, and they don’t disappoint. Like any commercially-produced book, it is necessarily broad in scope, but within the constraints of less than 100 pages they have managed to instill a detail that you just don’t get with other, big-hitter history books which I won’t name here but have clearly been written by people who not only don’t live round here but who, I suspect don’t actually like Greenwich very much.
I was particularly taken, for example (and this is just one of many similar) by the sly reference to D.W. Noakes, a man deplorably obscure but for me (and I know Julian Watson) is a bit of a Greenwich cinematic hero.
Obviously, a lot of the buildings in the photos are gone. I found pages 32 and 33 particularly depressing (you’ll know what I mean when you see them) but it’s not all terrible. John was asking me about the Sea Witch Pub the other day (and yes, I will get round to it John) and there’s a cracking 1937 picture of it in here, complete with a bescarfed, becapped chap leaning on a railing for the camera. Sadly it received a direct hit, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, three years after the image was taken and today’s picture is rather less interesting. What makes this book fascinating though is that even the ‘now’ picture is only ‘for now’ – a little moment of ephemera caught in photographic aspic before it all changes again.
But for all the buildings that are gone, there are still some that survive and there’s something about looking at a sepia pic, followed by a modern image of the same thing that makes me look twice at something I had, frankly, started to take for granted. Lovibond’s brewery, for example. I know Daveys is in their old building – hell, I’d even written about it – but seeing a photo of the old place jolted me to look at it again.
One of the things that strike me so much re reading this this particular morning, ‘the Morning After’ (the Olympic Games closing ceremony) is that despite it’s only being a couple of months old, the book is already part of history itself. Greenwich was moving so fast over the past months that all the authors could do was say that the games were coming up, that a cable car was proposed and that the borough would become Royal. All that has happened – though we still await the completion (or even start, ahem,) of some of the other projects they mention.
For anyone who doesn’t actually live in Greenwich, I should probably point out that almost half the book isn’t about the town at all – Charlton, Eltham and Kidbrooke are all mentioned, as are places like Woolwich and Plumstead. To me this is spreading itself just a leeettle too thinly. I could have taken a whole book about Greenwich and then supplementary books about the other places in the borough – they each merit their own volumes and it feels a bit like the publishers were just sticking one picture of each place in to get people who aren’t from Greenwich town to buy the book. I can understand this. The nature of local history books is that they don’t sell in large volumes and the broader the reach, the more likely to actually make back an investment.
I’m delighted to recommend Greenwich Then and Now and not just because I’m a huge fan of these two giants of local history. It’s simply a book that makes you look at your surroundings in a different way.
If you’re quick, you can get it a little bit cheaper.
Instead of £12.99, THP are offering Greenwich Then and Now at £10.50, and in case you’re worried about the traditional bugbear of post and packing, this includes delivery (UK only, though, sorry Phantophiles in forn parts.)
You can visit the website or call 01235 465577 and quote:
Just make sure you do it before August 31st…
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